“Winner, winner, chicken dinner.”
It doesn’t take much mathematics to best me, but I always thought that it was more luck than math when it came to playing blackjack. Guess I was wrong, but you need the mind of a genius to keep up with all those combinations of numbers. A team of MIT students decides to break the bank at Vegas.
Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) has only dreamed of one thing his entire life, which is to go to Harvard Medical School. Ben is not a person of means and it will cost $300,000 to accomplish his dream.
He’s competing for the prestigious Robinson scholarship that will give the recipient a free ride at the school. The recruiter says that the competition is fierce since seventy-five have applied and only one can win and he has to dazzle the committee. Ben’s professor Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey) is impressed when Ben solves a mathematical problem successfully.
He asks Ben to join a very special extra-curricular after school group – a group of card counters who travel to Vegas to fleece the casinos with their card counting techniques. Ben is a little reluctant to join up, but Jill (Kate Bosworth), a girl Ben has a crush on, is a member of the team and he finally agrees to join up with her persuasion.
The team starts to make some hay, but this doesn’t go unnoticed by old school security chief Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne) who is being driven out of business by facial recognition software.
21 is inspired by the book by Ben Mezrich called Bringing down the House about a troupe of MIT grads that went to Vegas, counted cards, and came back very rich.
Jeff Ma is the character that Ben was based on and other members of the team had real-life counterparts (Ma cameos as a blackjack dealer).
It’s pretty obvious that this particular plotline was heavily fictionalized, but who can’t help but dream about what the characters in the movie do. They get to go to the city that never sleeps and walk away with quadruple, or more, the amount of cash they walk in with.
It’s also obvious that the game is played on both sides of the table as the casinos pull all sorts of tricks to make sure that you put more money down on the table for them to take. It’s good to see the casinos get fleeced, not that they can’t afford that once and awhile. Even if they can afford it, they don’t much like it.
The film is obviously a fantasy of how we hope that the little guy can take on Vegas and walk away a winner. The cast is excellent, but you have a little trouble feeling sorry for Ben as he seems like he has the whole world at his feet until he gets obsessed with taking on Vegas.
Spacey is very charismatic as the professor, but we also get to see his mean streak. Some of the fictional plot is clearly telegraphed, but it’s still exciting to see it all played out.
21 is presented in a 1080p high definition transfer (2.40:1). Special features include a commentary by director Robert Luketic and producers Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca.
Next are a trio of featurettes that are presented in high definition. The 5 minute “21: The Advantage Player” explain blackjack and card counting, the 25 minute “Basic Strategy” goes into making the film, and the 7 minute “Money Plays” is about the film’s production design.
The Blu-ray also features a virtual blackjack game and BD Live functionality (though I was not able to get this function to work). Finally, there are high-def previews of other Sony products.
21 is a film that doesn’t go bust and comes close to hitting that magic number. It’s good to see the little guy, even though he has a high IQ, take on the casinos and walk away with more money in his pocket than he arrived with.